My Amygdala, Myself

I’ve decided to continue to grant you a brief reprieve from long-winded stories about my hair, but only because I want to talk at too-great length about the almond-shaped collection of neurons in my right temporal lobe that’s been at the top, figuratively speaking, of my mind for the past few days.

I’ve always preferred cashews.

Last week was pretty busy in terms of medical appointments, with some interesting (to me, anyway) developments. I’ll limit myself, in this post, to describing one of them.

I very recently asked the nurse practitioner who works with my epilepsy specialist for suggestions regarding mental-health resources I can access as I wait for my surgery since my anxiety has been, to condense a complicated situation into three words, “out of control.” Turns out that putting your life on hold until someone cuts into your brain is hard. Within two days, I had a referral for a neuropsychiatrist, which is exactly what it sounds like, if what it sounds like to you is someone who specializes in neuropsychiatristry. The appointment was for three days later.

Although I wasn’t sure what I was in for when I headed to the clinic, my expectations—which I was, as usual, being sure to carefully manage—were very much exceeded. Perhaps the biggest take-home messages, for me, were that a) the medication I’m currently taking to treat my OCD might be lowering my seizure threshold, and is thus not a “front-line” treatment for people with epilepsy; and, more importantly, b) one of the two identified abnormalities in my brain is to my amygdala, partially in charge of fear, panic, and anxiety.

In other words, a) there might be room for seizure improvement if I switch to something more person-with-epilepsy friendly to help with my mood issues, and b) I can blame my “chunky” (the word of a medical professional—I prefer “husky”) amygdala for some these mood problems.

img_3745
Note my amygdala’s “huskiness.” My rendering is so anatomically correct that its variances from the average amygdala are, I know, immediately evident.

Toward the end of the appointment, the neuropsychiatrist made a perhaps oversimplified, but very helpful, diagram illustrating the back and forth between seizures and mood disorders. Funnily enough, I never really think about the fact that being depressed and/or anxious and/or being in a period where my OCD isn’t well controlled might lead to more seizures; I always just assume that more seizures=worse depression/anxiety/OCD symptoms. As she was carefully to emphasize, though, it’s a two-way street. There are furthermore other epilepsy-related factors, like mood-lowering side effects of many anticonvulsants and quality-of-life issues due to recurrent seizures, to be taken into account.

Mostly, it’s weirdly comforting to think that whatever’s causing my seizures might be implicated in my mood disorder(s), too. Two birds with one stone, so to speak. It’s also terrifying, in that it means that if I don’t end up being a candidate for the corrective surgery, I won’t be able to get rid of the physical source of my psychological problems. But it’s important to remember—or so I keep reminding myself—that until last week, I wasn’t actively demonizing my chunky, overactive right amygdala. I will survive, with or without it.

Preferably, of course, without it.

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3 thoughts on “My Amygdala, Myself

  1. Wow! Interesting developments, indeed. Thanks for sharing this with us. It’s good to know that this news is enlightening and even comforting. Also, you draw pretty things.

  2. very beautifully written. Definately more research is needed on the relationship between epilepsy and depression. Although not be able to drive is a reason that some people get depressed – it doesn’t explain everything!!!!!

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